AFRICA – Wamkele Mene, One of South Africa’s top trade negotiators has emerged as the new secretary-general of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

Mene, who was also Pretoria’s chief negotiator during the AU’s discussions on the formulation of the AfCFTA assumed the new office after endorsement by the AU heads of state summit in Addis Ababa.

Mene’s appointment was settled by voting by heads of state following an intense debate that pitted his candidature against Nigeria’s favorite Cecilia Akintomide, a banker by profession.

Nigeria argued for the appointment of Akintomide, even though she only emerged as the third-ranked candidate after a competency-based selection process conducted by the AU Commission. Mene was number one, followed by a competitor from the DRC.

Sources say the Nigerians argued that Akintomide’s appointment would be a move to boost women empowerment, a key focus of Ramaphosa’s acceptance speech on Sunday as this year’s chair of the AU.

The passionate lobbying by Nigeria forced the summit to abandon its usual practice of settling matters by consensus and went into a vote.

Sources said it took seven rounds of voting for SA to secure the two-thirds majority it needed for Mene’s appointment to go through.

Mene will now be in charge of the day-to-day operations of the newly created continental trade body, which will oversee the implementation of a tariff-free trade regime.

He holds an LL.M in Banking Law and Financial Regulation from the London School of Economics and Political Science; an M.A. in International Studies & Diplomacy from the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London; and a B.A. Law from Rhodes University.

He is also a senior trade law expert and negotiator on behalf of South Africa at the World Trade Organisation.

AfCFTA will be headquartered in the Ghanaian capital of Accra and is expected to be fully operational by end of March.